What Is an Authority Problem?

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen
Individuals who have an authority problem may resent any authority figure that they encounter.
Individuals who have an authority problem may resent any authority figure that they encounter.

A person who has an antagonistic or unhealthy relationship with authority figures may be described as having an authority problem. In some cases, these people tend to antagonize and resent any authority figure they encounter, regardless of the legitimacy of that person's authority. In other cases, an individual may demonstrate extreme and inappropriate submissiveness in his interactions with authority figures. Both types of behavior are problematic and can cause significant issues for the person with an authority problem. Evidence of this mentality can sometimes be found in children who are diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, and if left unchecked, children with authority problems could develop a personality disorder in adulthood.

Psychotherapy may be beneficial for individuals who have an authority problem.
Psychotherapy may be beneficial for individuals who have an authority problem.

In children, consistent challenges to authority figures may lead to a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder. Children who have this condition are considered to be at significant risk for developing more serious personality disorders as they reach adulthood. Interventions may include psychotherapy and supportive services for the child's family as well as an individualized educational program.

Authority issues might start in childhood.
Authority issues might start in childhood.

While it is not unusual for people to chafe at authority from time to time, some people demonstrate a pattern of authority problems throughout their life. These people may, for example, have difficulty holding a job because they resent their superiors and become uncooperative at work. The person with an authority problem will do this even if his boss is a reasonable person and is making reasonable requests. The problem is not with the boss as a human being, but the position of authority that he holds. An individual with an authority problem may find it impossible to work under someone else's direction and may choose the uncertainty of unemployment or temporary jobs over submitting to a supervisor's authority.

Symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder need to be addressed as soon as possible in teens and young adults.
Symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder need to be addressed as soon as possible in teens and young adults.

On the other hand, some people with an authority problem may react to authority by submitting even to unreasonable demands. These individuals may be very keen on avoiding conflict or fearful of the consequences of challenging authority. Unfortunately, not all authority figures are benign, and this over-compliance can cause significant problems for those with this type of authority problem. Whether a person's authority problem manifests itself in mindless conflict or over-compliance, having problems with authority can jeopardize an individual's career and relationships and may even land her in legal trouble. Individuals who recognize these traits in themselves may be able to get help and change both their attitudes and behavior by working with a competent counselor or therapist.

At What Age Does Oppositional Defiant Disorder Develop?

People who have trouble with their supervisor might talk bad about them behind their back.
People who have trouble with their supervisor might talk bad about them behind their back.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, oppositional defiant disorder or ODD is considered a behavioral condition. Doctors diagnose it only when there is a long pattern of uncooperative, defiant behavior. It usually presents first in childhood and is most prevalent in toddlers and young teenagers. 

In toddlers, the behavior can look like a temper tantrum. In teenagers, key signs are chronic disobeying, arguing, and talking back to authority figures. 

Some of these traits are common in all children and teens. Because of this, most doctors will not consider a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder in either age group unless the aggressive behavior toward authority lasts more than six months. 

What Causes Authority Problems?

Doctors have been unable to pinpoint one specific cause of authority problems in children or adults, but there are theories. Most theories are associated with how a person learned behavior as a child.

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, one theory surrounds a person’s development. This idea theorizes that an adult with oppositional defiant disorder may have struggled to learn independence in childhood. T

his person may have even witnessed a significant power struggle as a child. Watching that power struggle evolve may have had a profound effect on how the child grew to view people in power.

Another theory of what causes authority problems associated with oppositional defiant disorder is that the point of view of a person with ODD is a side effect of negative reinforcement. In this theory, doctors believe the child grew attached to the attention it received for the negative behavior.

Are There Medications for Authority Problems?

There are many options for treating authority problems and oppositional defiant disorder. Most people take medication, make lifestyle changes, seek therapy, or treat with all of the above. 

Doctors will typically prescribe neuroleptic medicines to patients who have been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder. According to a study by Muhammad Atif Ameer at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, these medications actively block neurotransmitters or receptors in the brain, limiting the number of messages the brain receives. 

Neuroleptics have a significant effect on behavior in both children and adults. They are widely used to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many of these medicines are FDA-approved, but using them correctly is vital. Each has positive and negative side effects that should be taken seriously. Patients with this disorder should discuss all options with a licensed medical professional first.

How Should I Deal with a Person who Has an Authority Problem?

Being a witness or party to an authority problem can be distracting and discomforting. As the authority figure, being the object of this behavior could even be dangerous.

If you or someone you know is experiencing this behavior, it is necessary to assess the root cause. The underlying issue may present itself as an authority problem but could potentially be more simple. For example, is the person struggling with communication skills? Is this the first interaction with authority in this capacity? 

If these questions are not applicable or if the person has a pattern of inappropriate behavior towards authority, there may be other steps you can take. The Mayo Clinic suggests modeling behavior you want the person to have, setting clear limits on what you are uncomfortable with, and choosing your battles with this person wisely if it could lead to confrontation.

How Do I Overcome a Fear of Authority?

For children, symptoms of authority problems or oppositional defiant disorder can fade over time, usually due to a child finding treatment early on and learning healthy ways to interact with authority figures. 

In adults, overcoming fear of authority is possible once any underlying issues are identified and treated. Because issues with authority are behavioral, behavioral therapists or psychiatrists that can prescribe medicine are typically the best types of therapists to consult. 

People with authority problems often have multiple diagnoses or behavioral issues, making overcoming fear of authority a multi-layer conversation. In most cases, whether the issue is new or has become more intense over the years, an in-depth consultation with a medical professional is vital in providing comprehensive treatment to correct the root of the problem.

Discussion Comments

anon1001745

Those who do not have problems with authority figures are called slaves.

anon966541

I think I have this so called "authority problem," and I wouldn't give it up! I never understood why people so readily assume a position of having to obey someone else.

Think about what an average "job" is: They tell you when to get there, what to do throughout an entire day, when you may leave, and they deprive you of your livelihood if you disobey or even question it. Most people think it is perfectly fine to live most of your life like this. Honestly, I could never understand how can anyone think this is "fine", but I guess I have to accept that I'm different from most people in this regard.

anon955195

@SteamLouis: My son is similar. He generally opposes any and all rules and authority, to his own detriment. We are surrounded by rules (don't speak out loud in class when the teacher is talking, don't interrupt people, get yourself out of bed in the morning, don't drive on the wrong side of the road, etc.). There is nothing inherently wrong with this; it makes life among other people pleasant and respectful. But some kids -- my son included -- simply oppose any and all rules; they get value out of the opposition itself. The goal isn't to win, it is simply to exert some control or demonstrate power over the person they are opposing.

It's basically a maladaptive way of solving problems -- often problems with emotions, feelings, etc. -- problems that others have solved in better ways, like realizing that some rules are best for all involved including our own good, and simply conforming. Or, realizing that sometimes, they have to do things that they don't like, and it's best to simply take a few deep breaths and do the work, etc. There are many things that may cause these patterns to adapt -- see “The Defiant Child,” or “10 Days to a Less Defiant Child” books. The child's neurology may be part of it, as is the parents' parenting styles and discipline approaches (or lack thereof). Solving it, I'm learning, requires the parent to change before the child can change.

One of the frustrating things for a parent is that this oppositional stance is not only extremely draining for the parent, but is so extremely harmful to the child himself. The child, not the adult, is the one who ultimately pays the price if this is left untreated.

I wish I had caught signs of this much earlier in his life, as it can be extremely difficult to change these behavior patterns once they have set in. I'm in the middle of that process right now and it is the most difficult thing I've ever attempted.

anon942629

I think it is human nature to question things, especially when coming from an authority figure. I think it is healthy to think for yourself and to stand up to authority when authority fails. I wonder how many leaders actually got to where they were by questioning authority.

discographer

@simrin-- He might not grow out of it, but why are you so worried?

I'm what you would call "someone with an authority problem." Isn't it interesting that the term is often used by those who consider themselves authority?

I don't think people with an "authority problem" actually have a problem. Some people just have an inquisitive personality. It's not that this type of personality hates authority or never listens to authority, but someone who likes to play the devil's advocate will want to believe in something before doing it.

I don't disobey all authority. I only disobey authority who is not doing his job right and making unreasonable demands. Because some people don't understand this, they think I have problems with authority. What's wrong with thinking about something? Do we always have to follow orders blindly?

SteamLouis

I didn't have any problems with authority growing up, but my son does. It's a constant challenge to try to get him to do things, at home and at school. I hope he will grow out of this. Are there any other parents here with disobedient kids?

stoneMason

Can we say that people who live in violent dictatorships and who love and obey the dictator have problems with authority figures?

I'm studying political science and I've noticed that there are many examples of this. Why did some Germans continue to support Hitler during the Nazi regime? Why do people who live under oppressive regimes today continue to carry love and affection for those who oppress them? I personally think that this is a type of authority problem but I would love to hear what others think about this.

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    • Individuals who have an authority problem may resent any authority figure that they encounter.
      By: michaeljung
      Individuals who have an authority problem may resent any authority figure that they encounter.
    • Psychotherapy may be beneficial for individuals who have an authority problem.
      By: Ambrophoto
      Psychotherapy may be beneficial for individuals who have an authority problem.
    • Authority issues might start in childhood.
      By: Susan Stevenson
      Authority issues might start in childhood.
    • Symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder need to be addressed as soon as possible in teens and young adults.
      By: bertys30
      Symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder need to be addressed as soon as possible in teens and young adults.
    • People who have trouble with their supervisor might talk bad about them behind their back.
      By: Wrangler
      People who have trouble with their supervisor might talk bad about them behind their back.